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  • 1902
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suffice; my reason for that she might suspect–she might follow. It would be for her sake. Again it was the hero that I played, the dear old chuckle-headed hero, Paul, that you ought to have cheered, not hooted. I loved her as much as I ever loved her in my life, that night I left her. I took my boots off in the passage and crept up in my stockinged feet. I told him I was merely going to change my coat and put a few things into a bag. He gripped my hand, and tears were standing in his eyes. It is odd that suppressed laughter and expressed grief should both display the same token, is it not? I stole into her room. I dared not kiss her for fear of waking her; but a stray lock of her hair–you remember how long it was–fell over the pillow, nearly reaching to the floor. I pressed my lips against it, where it trailed over the bedstead, till they bled. I have it still upon my lips, the mingling of the cold iron and the warm, soft silken hair. He told me, when I came down again, that I had been gone three-quarters of an hour. And we went out of the house together, he and I. That is the last time I ever saw her.”

I leant across and put my arms around him; I suppose it was un-English; there are times when one forgets these points. “I did not know! I did not know,” I cried.

He pressed me to him with his feeble arms. “What a cad you must have thought me, Paul,” he said. “But you might have given me credit for better taste. I was always rather a gourmet than a gourmand where women were concerned.”

“You have never seen him either again?” I asked.

“No,” he answered; “I swore to kill him when I learnt the trick he had played me. He commenced the divorce proceedings against her the very morning after I had left her. Possibly, had I succeeded in finding him within the next six months, I should have done so. A few newspaper proprietors would have been the only people really benefited. Time is the cheapest Bravo; a little patience is all he charges. All roads lead to the end, Paul.”

But I tell my tale badly, marring effects of sunlight with the memory of shadows. At the time all promised fair. He was a handsome, distinguished-looking man. Not every aristocrat, if without disrespect to one’s betters a humble observer may say so, suggests his title; this man would have suggested his title, had he not possessed it. I suppose he must have been about fifty at the time; but most men of thirty would have been glad to exchange with him both figure and complexion. His behaviour to his _fiancee_ was the essence of good taste, affectionate devotion, carried to the exact point beyond which, having regard to the disparity of their years, it would have appeared ridiculous. That he sincerely admired her, was fully content with her, there could be no doubt. I am even inclined to think he was fonder of her than, divining her feelings towards himself, he cared to show. Knowledge of the world must have told him that men of fifty find it easier to be the lovers of women young enough to be their daughters, than girls find it to desire the affection of men old enough to be their fathers; and he was not the man to allow impulse to lead him into absurdity.

From my own peculiar point of view he appeared the ideal prince consort. It was difficult for me to imagine my queen in love with any mere man. This was one beside whom she could live, losing in my eyes nothing of her dignity. My feelings for her he guessed at our first interview. Most men in his position would have been amused, and many would have shown it. For what reason I cannot say, but with a tact and courtesy that left me only complimented, he drew from me, before I had met him half-a-dozen times, more frank confession than a month previously I should have dreamt of my yielding to anything than my own pillow. He laid his hand upon my shoulder.

“I wonder if you know, my friend, how wise you are,” he said. “We all of us at your age love an image of our own carving. Ah, if only we could be content to worship the white, changeless statute! But we are fools. We pray the gods to give her life, and under our hot kisses she becomes a woman. I also loved when I was your age, Paul. Your countrymen, they are so practical, they know only one kind of love. It is business-like, rich–how puts it your poet? ‘rich in saving common sense.’ But there are many kinds, you understand that, my friend. You are wise, do not confuse them. She was a child of the mountains. I used to walk three leagues to Mass each day to worship her. Had I been wise–had I so left it, the memory of her would have coloured all my life with glory. But I was a fool, my friend; I turned her into a woman. Ah!”–he made a gesture of disgust–“such a fat, ugly woman, Paul, I turned her into. I had much difficulty in getting rid of her. We should never touch things in life that are beautiful; we have such clumsy hands, we spoil whatever we touch.”

Hal did not return to England till the end of the year, by which time the Count and Countess Huescar–though I had her permission still to call her Barbara, I never availed myself of it; the “Countess” fitted my mood better–had taken up residence in the grand Paris house old Hasluck had bought for them.

It was the high-water mark of old Hasluck’s career, and, if anything, he was a little disappointed that with the dowry he had promised her Barbara had not done even better for herself.

“Foreign Counts,” he grumbled to me laughingly, one day, “well, I hope they’re worth more in Society than they are in the City. A hundred guineas is their price there, and they’re not worth that. Who was that American girl that married a Russian Prince only last week? A million dollars was all she gave for him, and she a wholesale boot- maker’s daughter into the bargain! Our girls are not half as smart.”

But that was before he had seen his future son-in-law. After, he was content enough, and up to the day of the wedding, childishly elated. Under the Count’s tuition he studied with reverential awe the Huescar history. Princes, statesmen, warriors, glittered, golden apples, from the spreading branches of its genealogical tree. Why not again! its attenuated blue sap strengthened with the rich, red blood, brewed by toil and effort in the grim laboratories of the under world. In imagination, old Hasluck saw himself the grandfather of Chancellors, the great-grandfather of Kings.

“I have laid the foundation, you shall raise the edifice,” so he told her one evening I was spending with them, caressing her golden hair with his blunt, fat fingers. “I am glad you were not a boy. A boy, in all probability, would have squandered the money, let the name sink back again into the gutter. And even had he been the other sort, he could only have been another business man, keeping where I had left him. You will call your first boy Hasluck, won’t you? It must always be the first-born’s name. It shall be famous in the world yet, and for something else than mere money.

I began to understand the influences that had gone towards the making–or marring–of Barbara’s character. I had never guessed he had cared for anything beyond money and the making of money.

It was, of course, a wedding as ostentatious as possible. Old Hasluck knew how to advertise, and spared neither expense nor labour, with the result that it was the event of the season, at least according to the Society papers. Mrs. Hasluck was the type of woman to have escaped observation, even had the wedding been her own; that she was present at her daughter’s, “becomingly dressed in grey veiling spotted white, with an encrustation of mousseline de soie,” I learnt the next day from the _Morning Post_. Old Hasluck himself had to be fetched every time he was wanted. At the conclusion of the ceremony, seeking him, I found him sitting on the stairs leading to the crypt.

“Is it over?” he asked. He was mopping his face on a huge handkerchief, and had a small looking-glass in his hand.

“All over,” I answered, “they are waiting for you to start.”

“I always perspire so when I’m excited,” he explained. “Keep me out of it as much as possible.”

But the next time I saw him, which was two or three days later, the reaction had set in. He was sitting in his great library, surrounded by books he would no more have thought of disturbing than he would of strumming on the gorgeous grand piano inlaid with silver that ornamented his drawing-room. A change had passed over him. His swelling rotundity, suggestive generally of a bladder inflated to its extremest limits by excess of self-importance, appeared to be shrinking. I put the idea aside as mere fancy at the time, but it was fact; he became a mere bag of bones before he died. He was wearing an old pair of carpet slippers and smoking a short clay pipe.

“Well,” I said, “everything went off all right.”

“Everybody’s gone off all right, so far,” he grunted. He was crouching over the fire, though the weather was still warm, one hand spread out towards the blaze. “Now I’ve got to go off, that’s the only thing they’re waiting for. Then everything will be in order.”

“I don’t think they are wanting you to go off,” I answered, with a laugh.

“You mean,” he answered, “I’m the goose that lays the golden eggs. Ah, but you see, so many of the eggs break, and so many of them are bad.”

“Some of them hatch all right,” I replied. The simile was becoming somewhat confused: in conversation similes are apt to.

“If I were to die this week,” he said–he paused, completing mental calculations, “I should be worth, roughly speaking, a couple of million. This time next year I may be owing a million.”

I sat down opposite to him. “Why run risks?” I suggested. “Surely you have enough. Why not give it up–retire?”

He laughed. “Do you think I haven’t said that to myself, lad–sworn I would a dozen times a year? I can’t do it; I’m a gambler. It’s the earliest thing I can recollect doing, gambling with brace buttons. There are men, Paul, now dying in the workhouse–men I once knew well; I think of them sometimes, and wish I didn’t–who any time during half their life might have retired on twenty thousand a year. If I were to go to any one of them, and settle an annuity of a hundred a year upon him, the moment my back was turned he’d sell it out and totter up to Threadneedle Street with the proceeds. It’s in our blood. I shall gamble on my death-bed, die with the tape in my hand.”

He kicked the fire into a blaze. A roaring flame made the room light again.

“But that won’t be just yet awhile,” he laughed, “and before it does, I’ll be the richest man in Europe. I keep my head cool–that’s the great secret.” Leaning over towards me, he sunk his voice to a whisper, “Drink, Paul–so many of them drink. They get worried; fifty things dancing round and round at the same time in their heads. Fifty questions to be answered in five minutes. Tick, tick, tick, taps the little devil at their elbow. This going down, that going up. Rumor of this, report of that. A fortune to be lost here, a fortune to be snatched there. Everything in a whirl! Tick, tick, tick, like nails into a coffin. God! for five minutes’ peace to think. Shut the door, turn the key. Out comes the bottle. That’s the end. All right so long as you keep away from that. Cool, quick brain, clear judgment–that’s the secret.”

“But is it worth it all?” I suggested. “Surely you have enough?”

“It means power, Paul.” He slapped his trousers pocket, making the handful of gold and silver he always carried there jingle musically. “It is this that rules the world. My children shall be big pots, hobnob with kings and princes, slap them on the back and call them by their Christian names, be kings themselves–why not? It’s happened before. My children, the children of old Noel Hasluck, son of a Whitechapel butcher! Here’s my pedigree!” Again be slapped his tuneful pocket. “It’s an older one than theirs! It’s coming into its own at last! It’s money–we men of money–that are the true kings now. It’s our family that rules the world–the great money family; I mean to be its head.”

The blaze died out, leaving the room almost in darkness, and for awhile we sat in silence.

“Quiet, isn’t it?” said old Hasluck, raising his head.

The settling of the falling embers was the only sound about us.

“Guess we’ll always be like this, now,” continued old Hasluck. “Old woman goes to bed, you see, immediately after dinner. It used to be different when _she_ was about. Somehow, the house and the lackeys and all the rest of it seemed to be a more natural sort of thing when _she_ was the centre of it. It frightens the old woman now she’s gone. She likes to get away from it. Poor old Susan! A little country inn with herself as landlady and me fussing about behind the bar; that was always her ambition, poor old girl!”

“You will he visiting them,” I suggested, “and they will be coming to stop with you.”

He shook his head. “They won’t want me, and it isn’t my game to hamper them. I never mix out of my class. I’ve always had sense enough for that.”

I laughed, wishing to cheer him, though I knew he was right. “Surely your daughter belongs to your own class,” I replied.

“Do you think so?” he asked, with a grin. “That’s not a pretty compliment to her. She was my child when she used to cling round my neck, while I made the sausages, calling me her dear old pig. It didn’t trouble her then that I dropped my aitches and had a greasy skin. I was a Whitechapel butcher, and she was a Whitechapel brat. I could have kept her if I’d liked, but I was set upon making a lady of her, and I did it. But I lost my child. Every time she came back from school I could see she despised me a little more. I’m not blaming her; how could she help it? I was making a lady of her, teaching her to do it; though there were moments when I almost hated her, felt tempted to snatch her back to me, drag her down again to my level, make her my child again, before it was too late. Oh, it wasn’t all unselfishness; I could have done it. She would have remained my class then, would have married my class, and her children would have been my class. I didn’t want that. Everything’s got to be paid for. I got what I asked for; I’m not grumbling at the price. But it ain’t cheap.”

He rose and knocked the ashes from his pipe. “Ring the bell, Paul, will you?” be said. “Let’s have some light and something to drink. Don’t take any notice of me. I’ve got the hump to-night.”

It was a minute or two before the lamp came. He put his arm upon my shoulder, leaning upon me somewhat heavily.

“I used to fancy sometimes, Paul,” he said, “that you and she might have made a match of it. I should have been disappointed for some things. But you’d have been a bit nearer to me, you two. It never occurred to you, that, I suppose?”

CHAPTER VII.

HOW PAUL SET FORTH UPON A QUEST.

Of old Deleglise’s Sunday suppers, which, costumed from head to foot in spotless linen, he cooked himself in his great kitchen, moving with flushed, earnest face about the gleaming stove, while behind him his guests waited, ranged round the massive oaken table glittering with cut glass and silver, among which fluttered the deft hands of Madeline, his ancient whitecapped Bonne, much has been already recorded, and by those possessed of greater knowledge. They who sat there talking in whispers until such time as old Deleglise turned towards them again, radiant with consciousness of success, the savoury triumph steaming between his hands, when, like the sudden swell of the Moonlight Sonata, the talk would rush once more into a roar, were men whose names were then–and some are still–more or less household words throughout the English-speaking world. Artists, musicians, actors, writers, scholars, droles, their wit and wisdom, their sayings and their doings must be tolerably familiar to readers of memoir and biography; and if to such their epigrams appear less brilliant, their jests less laughable than to us who heard them spoken, that is merely because fashion in humour and in understanding changes as in all else.

You, gentle reader of my book, I shall not trouble with second-hand record of that which you can read elsewhere. For me it will be but to write briefly of my own brief glimpse into that charmed circle. Concerning this story more are the afternoon At Homes held by Dan and myself upon the second floor of the old Georgian house in pleasant, quiet Queen Square. For cook and house-maid on these days it would be a busy morning. Failing other supervision, Dan and I agreed that to secure success on these important occasions each of us should criticise the work of the other. I passed judgment on Dan’s cooking, he upon my house-work.

“Too much soda,” I would declare, sampling the cake.

“You silly Juggins! It’s meant to taste of soda–it’s a soda cake.”

“I know that. It isn’t meant to taste of nothing but soda. There wants to be some cake about it also. This thing, so far as flavour is concerned, is nothing but a Seidlitz powder. You can’t give people solidified Seidlitz powders for tea!”

Dan would fume, but I would remain firm. The soda cake would be laid aside, and something else attempted. His cookery was the one thing Dan was obstinate about. He would never admit that anything could possibly be wrong with it. His most ghastly failures he would devour himself later on with pretended enjoyment. I have known him finish a sponge cake, the centre of which had to be eaten with a teaspoon, declaring it was delicious; that eating a dry sponge cake was like eating dust; that a sponge cake ought to be a trifle syrupy towards the centre. Afterwards he would be strangely silent and drink brandy out of a wine-glass.

“Call these knives clean?” It would be Dan’s turn.

“Yes, I do.”

Dan would draw his finger across one, producing chiaro-oscuro.

“Not if you go fingering them. Why don’t you leave them alone and go on with your own work?”

“You’ve just wiped them, that’s all.”

“Well, there isn’t any knife-powder.”

“Yes, there is.”

“Besides, it ruins knives, over-cleaning them–takes all the edge off. We shall want them pretty sharp to cut those lemon buns of yours.”

“Over-cleaning them! You don’t take any pride in the place.”

“Good Lord! Don’t I work from morning to night?”

“You lazy young devil!”

“Makes one lazy, your cooking. How can a man work when he is suffering all day long from indigestion?”

But Dan would not be content until I had found the board and cleaned the knives to his complete satisfaction. Perhaps it was as well that in this way all things once a week were set in order. After lunch house-maid and cook would vanish, two carefully dressed gentlemen being left alone to receive their guests.

These would be gathered generally from among Dan’s journalistic acquaintances and my companions of the theatre. Occasionally, Minikin and Jarman would be of the number, Mrs. Peedles even once or twice arriving breathless on our landing. Left to myself, I perhaps should not have invited them, deeming them hardly fitting company to mingle with our other visitors; but Dan, having once been introduced to them, overrode such objection.

“My dear Lord Chamberlain,” Dan would reply, “an ounce of originality is worth a ton of convention. Little tin ladies and gentlemen all made to pattern! One can find them everywhere. Your friends would be an acquisition to any society.”

“But are they quite good form?” I hinted.

“I’ll tell you what we will do,” replied Dan. “We’ll forget that Mrs. Peedles keeps a lodging-house in Blackfriars. We will speak of her as our friend, ‘that dear, quaint old creature, Lady P.’ A title that is an oddity, whose costume always suggests the wardrobe of a provincial actress! My dear Paul, your society novelist would make a fortune out of such a character. The personages of her amusing anecdotes, instead of being third-rate theatrical folk, shall be Earl Blank and the Baroness de Dash. The editors of society journals shall pay me a shilling a line for them. Jarman–yes, Jarman shall be the son of a South American millionaire. Vulgar? Nonsense! you mean racy. Minikin–he looks much more like forty than twenty–he shall be an eminent scientist. His head will then appear the natural size; his glass eye, the result of a chemical experiment, a touch of distinction; his uncompromising rudeness, a lovable characteristic. We will make him buy a yard of red ribbon and wear it across his shirt-front, and address him as Herr Professor. It will explain slight errors of English grammar and all peculiarities of accent. They shall be our lions. You leave it to me. We will invite commonplace, middle-class folk to meet them.”

And this, to my terror and alarm, Dan persisted in doing. Jarman entered into the spirit of the joke with gusto. So far as he was concerned, our guests, from the beginning to the end, were one and all, I am confident, deceived. The more he swaggered, the more he boasted, the more he talked about himself–and it was a failing he was prone to–the greater was his success. At the persistent endeavours of Dan’s journalistic acquaintances to excite his cupidity by visions of new journals, to be started with a mere couple of thousand pounds and by the inherent merit of their ideas to command at once a circulation of hundreds of thousands, I could afford to laugh. But watching the tremendous efforts of my actress friends to fascinate him–luring him into corners, gazing at him with languishing eyes, trotting out all their little tricks for his exclusive benefit, quarrelling about him among themselves–my conscience would prick me, lest our jest should end in a contretemps. Fortunately, Jarman himself, was a gentleman of uncommon sense, or my fears might have been realised. I should have been sorry myself to have been asked to remain stone under the blandishments of girls young and old, of women handsome and once, no doubt, good looking, showered upon him during that winter. But Jarman, as I think I have explained, was no slave to female charms. He enjoyed his good time while it lasted, and eventually married the eldest daughter of a small blacking factory. She was a plain girl, but pleasant, and later brought to Jarman possession of the factory. When I meet him–he is now stout and rubicund–he gives me the idea of a man who has attained to his ideals.

With Minikin we had more trouble. People turned up possessed of scientific smattering. We had to explain that the Professor never talked shop. Others were owners of unexpected knowledge of German, which they insisted upon airing. We had to explain that the Herr Professor was in London to learn English, and had taken a vow during his residence neither to speak nor listen to his native tongue. It was remarked that his acquaintance with colloquial English slang, for a foreigner, was quite unusual. Occasionally he was too rude, even for a scientist, informing ladies, clamouring to know how he liked English women, that he didn’t like them silly; telling one gentleman, a friend of Dan, a rather important man who once asked him, referring to his yard of ribbon, what he got it for, that he got it for fourpence. We had to explain him as a gentleman who had been soured by a love disappointment. The ladies forgave him; the gentlemen said it was a damned lucky thing for the girl. Altogether, Minikin took a good deal of explaining.

Lady Peedles, our guests decided among themselves, must be the widow of some one in the City who had been knighted in a crowd. They made fun of her behind her back, but to her face were most effusive. “My dear Lady Peedles” was the phrase most often heard in our rooms whenever she was present. At the theatre “my friend Lady Peedles” became a person much spoken of–generally in loud tones. My own social position I found decidedly improved by reason of her ladyship’s evident liking for myself. It went abroad that I was her presumptive heir. I was courted as a gentleman of expectations.

The fishy-eyed young man became one of our regular guests. Dan won his heart by never laughing at him.

“I like talking to you,” said the fishy-eyed young man one afternoon to Dan. “You don’t go into fits of laughter when I remark that it has been a fine day; most people do. Of course, on the stage I don’t mind. I know I am a funny little devil. I get my living by being a funny little devil. There is a photograph of me hanging in the theatre lobby. I saw a workman stop and look at it the other day as he passed; I was just behind him. He burst into a roar of laughter. ‘Little–! He makes me laugh to look at him!’ he cluttered to himself. Well, that’s all right; I want the man in the gallery to think me funny, but it annoys me when people laugh at me off the stage. If I am out to dinner anywhere and ask somebody to pass the mustard, I never get it; instead, they burst out laughing. I don’t want people to laugh at me when I am having my dinner. I want my dinner. It makes me very angry sometimes.”

“I know,” agreed Dan, sympathetically. “The world never grasps the fact that man is a collection, not a single exhibit. I remember being at a house once where the chief guest happened to be a great Hebrew scholar. One tea time, a Miss Henman, passing the butter to some one in a hurry, let it slip out of her hand. ‘Why is Miss Henman like a caterpillar?’ asked our learned guest in a sepulchral voice. Nobody appeared to know. ‘Because she makes the butter fly.’ It never occurred to any one of us that the Doctor could possibly joke. There was dead silence for about a minute. Then our hostess, looking grave, remarked: ‘Oh, do you really think so?'”

“If I were to enter a room full of people,” said the fishy-eyed young man, “and tell them that my mother had been run over by an omnibus, they would think it the funniest story they had heard in years.”

He was playing a principal part now in the opera, and it was he undoubtedly who was drawing the house. But he was not happy.

“I am not a comic actor, really,” he explained. “I could play Romeo, so far as feeling is concerned, and play it damned well. There is a fine vein of poetry in me. But of course it’s no good to me with this face of mine.”

“But are you not sinning your mercies, you fellows?” Dan replied. “There is young Kelver here. At school it was always his trouble that he could give us a good time and make us laugh, which nobody else in the whole school could do. His ambition was to kick a ball as well as a hundred other fellows could kick it. He could tell us a good story now if he would only write what the Almighty intended him to write, instead of gloomy rigmaroles about suffering Princesses in Welsh caves. I don’t say it’s bad, but a hundred others could write the same sort of thing better.”

“Can’t you understand,” answered the little man; “the poorest tragedian that ever lived never wished himself the best of low comedians. The court fool had an excellent salary, no doubt; and, likely enough, had got two-thirds of all the brain there was in the palace. But not a wooden-headed man-at-arms but looked down upon him. Every gallery boy who pays a shilling to laugh at me regards himself as my intellectual superior; while to a fourth-rate spouter of blank verse he looks up in admiration.”

“Does it so very much matter,” suggested Dan, “how the wooden-headed man-at-arms or the shilling gallery boy happens to regard you?”

“Yes, it does,” retorted Goggles, “because we happen to agree with them. If I could earn five pounds a week as juvenile lead, I would never play a comic part again.”

“There I cannot follow you,” returned Dan. “I can understand the artist who would rather be the man of action, the poet who would rather be the statesman or the warrior; though personally my sympathies are precisely the other way–with Wolfe who thought it a more glorious work, the writing of a great poem, than the burning of so many cities and the killing of so many men. We all serve the community. It is difficult, looking at the matter from the inside, to say who serves it best. Some feed it, some clothe it. The churchman and the policeman between them look after its morals, keep it in order. The doctor mends it when it injures itself; the lawyer helps it to quarrel, the soldier teaches it to fight. We Bohemians amuse it, instruct it. We can argue that we are the most important. The others cater for its body, we for its mind. But their work is more showy than ours and attracts more attention; and to attract attention is the aim and object of most of us. But for Bohemians to worry among themselves which is the greatest, is utterly without reason. The story-teller, the musician, the artist, the clown, we are members of a sharing troupe; one, with the ambition of the fat boy in Pickwick, makes the people’s flesh creep; another makes them hold their sides with laughter. The tragedian, soliloquising on his crimes, shows us how wicked we are; you, looking at a pair of lovers from under a scratch wig, show us how ridiculous we are. Both lessons are necessary: who shall say which is the superior teacher?”

“Ah, I am not a philosopher,” replied the little man, with a sigh.

“Ah,” returned Dan, with another, “and I am not a comic actor on my way to a salary of a hundred a week. We all of us want the other boy’s cake.”

The O’Kelly was another frequent visitor of ours. The attic in Belsize Square had been closed. In vain had the O’Kelly wafted incense, burned pastilles and sprinkled eau-de-Cologne. In vain had he talked of rats, hinted at drains.

“A wonderful woman,” groaned the O’Kelly in tones of sorrowful admiration. “There’s no deceiving her.”

“But why submit?” was our natural argument. “Why not say you are going to smoke, and do it?”

“It’s her theory, me boy,” explained the O’Kelly, “that the home should be kept pure–a sort of a temple, ye know. She’s convinced that in time it is bound to exercise an influence upon me. It’s a beautiful idea, when ye come to think of it.”

Meanwhile, in the rooms of half-a-dozen sinful men the O’Kelly kept his own particular pipe, together with his own particular smoking mixture; and one such pipe and one such tobacco jar stood always on our mantelpiece.

In the spring the forces of temptation raged round that feeble but most excellently intentioned citadel, the O’Kelly’s conscience. The Signora had returned to England, was performing then at Ashley’s Theatre. The O’Kelly would remain under long spells of silence, puffing vigorously at his pipe. Or would fortify himself with paeans in praise of Mrs. O’Kelly.

“If anything could ever make a model man of me”–he spoke in the tones of one whose doubts are stronger than his hopes–“it would he the example of that woman.”

It was one Saturday afternoon. I had just returned from the matinee.

“I don’t believe,” continued the O’Kelly, “I don’t really believe she has ever done one single thing she oughtn’t to, or left undone one single thing she ought, in the whole course of her life.”

“Maybe she has, and you don’t know of it,” I suggested, perceiving the idea might comfort him.

“I wish I could think so,” returned the O’Kelly. “I don’t mean anything really wrong,” he corrected himself quickly, “but something just a little wrong. I feel–I really feel I should like her better if she had.”

“Not that I mean I don’t like her as it is, ye understand,” corrected himself the O’Kelly a second time. “I respect that woman–I cannot tell ye, me boy, how much I respect her. Ye don’t know her. There was one morning, about a month ago. That woman—she’s down at six every morning, summer and winter; we have prayers at half-past. I was a trifle late meself: it was never me strong point, as ye know, early rising. Seven o’clock struck; she didn’t appear, and I thought she had overslept herself. I won’t say I didn’t feel pleased for the moment; it was an unworthy sentiment, but I almost wished she had. I ran up to her room. The door was open, the bedclothes folded down as she always leaves them. She came in five minutes later. She had got up at four that morning to welcome a troupe of native missionaries from East Africa on their arrival at Waterloo Station. She’s a saint, that woman; I am not worthy of her.”

“I shouldn’t dwell too much on that phase of the subject,” I suggested.

“I can’t help it, me boy,” replied the O’Kelly. “I feel I am not.”

“I don’t for a moment say you are,” I returned; “but I shouldn’t harp upon the idea. I don’t think it good for you.”

“I never will be,” he persisted gloomily, “never!”

Evidently he was started on a dangerous train of reflection. With the idea of luring him away from it, I led the conversation to the subject of champagne.

“Most people like it dry,” admitted the O’Kelly. “Meself, I have always preferred it with just a suggestion of fruitiness.”

“There was a champagne,” I said, “you used to be rather fond of when we–years ago.”

“I think I know the one ye mean,” said the O’Kelly. “It wasn’t at all bad, considering the price.”

“You don’t happen to remember where you got it?” I asked.

“It was in Bridge Street,” remembered the O’Kelly, “not so very far from the Circus.”

“It is a pleasant evening,” I remarked; “let us take a walk.”

We found the place, half wine-shop, half office.

“Just the same,” commented the O’Kelly as we pushed open the door and entered. “Not altered a bit.”

As in all probability barely twelve months had elapsed since his last visit, the fact in itself was not surprising. Clearly the O’Kelly had been calculating time rather by sensation. I ordered a bottle; and we sat down. Myself, being prejudiced against the brand, I called for a glass of claret. The O’Kelly finished the bottle. I was glad to notice my ruse had been successful. The virtue of that wine had not departed from it. With every glass the O’Kelly became morally more elevated. He left the place, determined that he would be worthy of Mrs. O’Kelly. Walking down the Embankment, he asserted his determination of buying an alarm-clock that very evening. At the corner of Westminster Bridge he became suddenly absorbed in his own thoughts. Looking to discover the cause of his silence, I saw that his eyes were resting on a poster representing a charming lady standing on one leg upon a wire; below her–at some distance–appeared the peaks of mountains; the artist had even caught the likeness. I cursed the luck that had directed our footsteps, but the next moment, lacking experience, was inclined to be reassured.

“Me dear Paul,” said the O’Kelly–he laid a fatherly hand upon my shoulder–“there are fair-faced, laughing women–sweet creatures, that ye want to put yer arm around and dance with.” He shook his head disapprovingly. “There are the sainted women, who lead us up, Paul–up, always up.”

A look, such as the young man with the banner might have borne with him to the fields of snow and ice, suffused the O’Kelly’s handsome face. Without another word he crossed the road and entered an American store, where for six-and-elevenpence he purchased an alarm- clock the man assured us would awake an Egyptian mummy. With this in his hand he waved me a good-bye, and jumped upon a Hampstead ‘bus, and alone I strolled on to the theatre.

Hal returned a little after Christmas and started himself in chambers in the City. It was the nearest he dared venture, so he said, to civilisation.

“I’d be no good in the West End,” he explained. “For a season I might attract as an eccentricity, but your swells would never stand me for longer–no more would any respectable folk, anywhere: we don’t get on together. I commenced at Richmond. It was a fashionable suburb then, and I thought I was going to do wonders. I had everything in my favour, except myself. I do know my work, nobody can deny that of me. My father spent every penny he had, poor gentleman, in buying me an old-established practice: fine house, carriage and pair, white-haired butler–everything correct, except myself. It was of no use. I can hold myself in for a month or two; then I break out, the old original savage that I am under my frock coat. I feel I must run amuck, stabbing, hacking at the prim, smiling Lies mincing round about me. I can fool a silly woman for half-a-dozen visits; bow and rub my hands, purr round her sympathetically. All the while I am longing to tell her the truth:

“‘Go home. Wash your face; don’t block up the pores of your skin with paint. Let out your corsets. You are thirty-three round the abdomen if you are an inch: how can you expect your digestion to do its work when you’re squeezing it into twenty-one? Give up gadding about half your day and most of your night; you are old enough to have done with that sort of thing. Let the children come, and suckle them yourself. You’ll be all the better for them. Don’t loll in bed all the morning. Get up like a decent animal and do something for your living. Use your brain, what there is of it, and your body. At that price you can have health to-morrow, and at no other. I can do nothing for you.’

“And sooner or later I blurt it out.” He laughed his great roar. “Lord! you should see the real face coming out of the simpering mask.

“Pompous old fools, strutting into me like turkey-cocks! By Jove, it was worth it! They would dribble out, looking half their proper size after I had done telling them what was the matter with them.

“‘Do you want to know what you are really suffering from?’ I would shout at them, when I could contain myself no longer. ‘Gluttony, my dear sir; gluttony and drunkenness, and over-indulgence in other vices that shall be nameless. Live like a man; get a little self-respect from somewhere; give up being an ape. Treat your body properly and it will treat you properly. That’s the only prescription that will do you any good.'”

He laughed again. “‘Tell the truth, you shame the Devil.’ But the Devil replies by starving you. It’s a fairly effective retort. I am not the stuff successful family physicians are made of. In the City I may manage to rub along. One doesn’t see so much of one’s patients; they come and go. Clerks and warehousemen my practice will be among chiefly. The poor man does not so much mind being told the truth about himself; it is a blessing to which he is accustomed.”

We spoke but once of Barbara. A photograph of her in her bride’s dress stood upon my desk. Occasionally, first fitting the room for the ceremony, sweeping away all impurity even from under the mats, and dressing myself with care, I would centre it amid flowers, and kneeling, kiss her hand where it rested on the back of the top-heavy looking chair without which no photographic studio is complete.

One day he took it up, and looked at it long and hard.

“The forehead denotes intellectuality; the eyes tenderness and courage. The lower part of the face, on the other hand, suggests a good deal of animalism: the finely cut nostrils show egotism–another word for selfishness; the nose itself, vanity; the lips, sensuousness and love of luxury. I wonder what sort of woman she really is.” He laid the photograph back upon the desk.

“I did not know you were so firm a believer in Lavater,” I said.

“Only when he agrees with what I know,” he answered. “Have I not described her rightly?”

“I do not care to discuss her in that vein,” I replied, feeling the blood mounting to my cheeks.

“Too sacred a subject?” he laughed. “It is the one ingredient of manhood I lack, ideality–an unfortunate deficiency for me. I must probe, analyse, dissect, see the thing as it really is, know it for what it is.”

“Well, she is the Countess Huescar now,” I said. “For God’s sake, leave her alone.”

He turned to me with the snarl of a beast. “How do you know she is the Countess Huescar? Is it a special breed of woman made on purpose? How do you know she isn’t my wife–brain and heart, flesh and blood, mine? If she was, do you think I should give her up because some fool has stuck his label on her?”

I felt the anger burning in my eyes. “Yours, his! She is no man’s property. She is herself,” I cried.

The wrinkles round his nose and mouth smoothed themselves out. “You need not be afraid,” he sneered. “As you say, she is the Countess Huescar. Can you imagine her as Mrs. Doctor Washburn? I can’t.” He took her photograph in his hand again. “The lower part of the face is the true index to the character. It shows the animal, and it is the animal that rules. The soul, the intellect, it comes and goes; the animal remains always. Sensuousness, love of luxury, vanity, those are the strings to which she dances. To be a Countess is of more importance to her than to be a woman. She is his, not mine. Let him keep her.”

“You do not know her,” I answered; “you never have. You listen to what she says. She does not know herself.”

He looked at me queerly. “What do you think her to be?” he asked me. “A true woman, not the shallow thing she seems?”

“A true woman,” I persisted stoutly, “that you have not eyes enough to see.”

“You little fool!” he muttered, with the same queer look–“you little fool. But let us hope you are wrong, Paul. Let us hope, for her sake, you are wrong.”

It was at one of Deleglise’s Sunday suppers that I first met Urban Vane. The position, nor even the character, I fear it must be confessed, of his guests was never enquired into by old Deleglise. A simple-minded, kindly old fellow himself, it was his fate to be occasionally surprised and grieved at the discovery that even the most entertaining of supper companions could fall short of the highest standard of conventional morality.

“Dear, dear me!” he would complain, pacing up and down his studio with puzzled visage. “The last man in the world of whom I should have expected to hear it. So original in all his ideas. Are you quite sure?”

“I am afraid there can he no doubt about it.”

“I can’t believe it! I really can’t believe it! One of the most amusing men I ever met!”

I remember a well-known artist one evening telling us with much sense of humour how he had just completed the sale of an old Spanish cabinet to two distinct and separate purchasers.

“I sold it first,” recounted the little gentleman with glee, “to old Jong, the dealer. He has been worrying me about it for the last three months, and on Saturday afternoon, hearing that I was clearing out and going abroad, he came round again. ‘Well, I am not sure I am in a position to sell it,’ I told him. ‘Who’ll know?’ he asked. ‘They are not in, are they?’ ‘Not yet,’ I answered, ‘but I expect they will be some time on Monday.’ ‘Tell your man to open the door to me at eight o’clock on Monday morning,’ he replied, ‘we’ll have it away without any fuss. There needn’t he any receipt. I’m lending you a hundred pounds, in cash.’ I worked him up to a hundred and twenty, and he paid me. Upon my word, I should never have thought of it, if he hadn’t put the idea into my head. But turning round at the door: ‘You won’t go and sell it to some one else,’ he suggested, ‘between now and Monday?’ It serves him right for his damned impertinence. ‘Send and take it away to-day if you are at all nervous,’ I told him. He looked at the thing, it is about twelve feet high altogether. ‘I would if I could get a cart,’ he muttered. Then an idea struck him. ‘Does the top come off?’ ‘See for yourself,’ I answered; ‘it’s your cabinet, not mine.’ I was feeling rather annoyed with him. He examined it. ‘That’s all right,’ he said; ‘merely a couple of screws. I’ll take the top with me now on my cab.’ He got a man in, and they took the upper cupboard away, leaving me the bottom. Two hours later old Sir George called to see me about his wife’s portrait. The first thing he set eyes on was the remains of the cabinet: he had always admired it. ‘Hallo,’ he asked, ‘are you breaking up the studio literally? What have you done with the other half?’ ‘I’ve sent it round to Jong’s–‘ He didn’t give me time to finish. ‘Save Jong’s commission and sell it to me direct,’ he said. ‘We won’t argue about the price and I’ll pay you in cash.’

“Well, if Providence comes forward and insists on taking charge of a man, it is hardly good manners to flout her. Besides, his wife’s portrait is worth twice as much as he is paying for it. He handed me over the money in notes. ‘Things not going quite smoothly with you just at the moment?’ he asked me. ‘Oh, about the same as usual,’ I told him. ‘You won’t be offended at my taking it away with me this evening?’ he asked. ‘Not in the least,’ I answered; ‘you’ll get it on the top of a four-wheeled cab.’ We called in a couple of men, and I helped them down with it, and confoundedly heavy it was. ‘I shall send round to Jong’s for the other half on Monday morning,’ he said, speaking with his head through the cab window, ‘and explain it to him.’ ‘Do,’ I answered; ‘he’ll understand.’

“I’m sorry I’m going away so early in the morning,” concluded the little gentleman. “I’d give back Jong ten per cent. of his money to see his face when he enters the studio.”

Everybody laughed; but after the little gentleman was gone, the subject cropped up again.

“If I wake sufficiently early,” remarked one, “I shall find an excuse to look in myself at eight o’clock. Jong’s face will certainly be worth seeing.”

“Rather rough both on him and Sir George,” observed another.

“Oh, he hasn’t really done anything of the kind,” chimed in old Deleglise in his rich, sweet voice. “He made that all up. It’s just his fun; he’s full of humour.”

“I am inclined to think that would be his idea of a joke,” asserted the first speaker.

Old Deleglise would not hear of it; but a week or two later I noticed an addition to old Deleglise’s studio furniture in the shape of a handsome old carved cabinet twelve feet high.

“He really had done it,” explained old Deleglise, speaking in a whisper, though only he and I were present. “Of course, it was only his fun; but it might have been misunderstood. I thought it better to put the thing straight. I shall get the money back from him when he returns. A most amusing little man!”

Old Deleglise possessed a house in Gower Street which fell vacant. One of his guests, a writer of poetical drama, was a man who three months after he had earned a thousand pounds never had a penny with which to bless himself. They are dying out, these careless, good-natured, conscienceless Bohemians; but quarter of a century ago they still lingered in Alsatian London. Turned out of his lodgings by a Philistine landlord, his sole possession in the wide world, two acts of a drama, for which he had already been paid, the problem of his future, though it troubled him but little, became acute to his friends. Old Deleglise, treating the matter as a joke, pretending not to know who was the landlord, suggested he should apply to the agents for position as caretaker. Some furniture was found for him, and the empty house in Gower Street became his shelter. The immediate present thus provided for, kindly old Deleglise worried himself a good deal concerning what would become of his friend when the house was let. There appeared to be no need for worry. Weeks, months went by. Applications were received by the agents in fair number, view cards signed by the dozen; but prospective tenants were never seen again. One Sunday evening our poet, warmed by old Deleglise’s Burgundy, forgetful whose recommendation had secured him the lowly but timely appointment, himself revealed the secret.

“Most convenient place I’ve got,” so he told old Deleglise. “Whole house to myself. I wander about; it just suits me.”

“I’m glad to hear that,” murmured old Deleglise.

“Come and see me, and I’ll cook you a chop,” continued the other. “I’ve had the kitchen range brought up into the back drawing-room; saves going up and down stairs.”

“The devil you have!” growled old Deleglise. “What do you think the owner of the house will say?”

“Haven’t the least idea who the poor old duffer is myself. They’ve put me in as caretaker–an excellent arrangement: avoids all argument about rent.”

“Afraid it will soon come to an end, that excellent arrangement;” remarked old Deleglise, drily.

“Why? Why should it?”

“A house in Gower Street oughtn’t to remain vacant long.”

“This one will.”

“You might tell me,” asked old Deleglise, with a grim smile; “how do you manage it? What happens when people come to look over the house–don’t you let them in?”

“I tried that at first,” explained the poet, “but they would go on knocking, and boys and policemen passing would stop and help them. It got to be a nuisance; so now I have them in, and get the thing over. I show them the room where the murder was committed. If it’s a nervous-looking party, I let them off with a brief summary. If that doesn’t do, I go into details and show them the blood-spots on the floor. It’s an interesting story of the gruesome order. Come round one morning and I’ll tell it to you. I’m rather proud of it. With the blinds down and a clock in the next room that ticks loudly, it goes well.”

Yet this was a man who, were the merest acquaintance to call upon him and ask for his assistance, would at once take him by the arm and lead him upstairs. All notes and cheques that came into his hands he changed at once into gold. Into some attic half filled with lumber he would fling it by the handful; then, locking the door, leave it there. On their hands and knees he and his friends, when they wanted any, would grovel for it, poking into corners, hunting under boxes, groping among broken furniture, feeling between cracks and crevices. Nothing gave him greater delight than an expedition of this nature to what he termed his gold-field; it had for him, as he would explain, all the excitements of mining without the inconvenience and the distance. He never knew how much was there. For a certain period a pocketful could be picked up in five minutes. Then he would entertain a dozen men at one of the best restaurants in London, tip cabmen and waiters with half-sovereigns, shower half-crowns as he walked through the streets, lend or give to anybody for the asking. Later, half-an-hour’s dusty search would be rewarded with a single coin. It made no difference to him; he would dine in Soho for eighteenpence, smoke shag, and run into debt.

The red-haired man, to whom Deleglise had introduced me on the day of my first meeting with the Lady of the train, was another of his most constant visitors. It flattered my vanity that the red-haired man, whose name was famous throughout Europe and America, should condescend to confide to me–as he did and at some length–the deepest secrets of his bosom. Awed–at all events at first–I would sit and listen while by the hour he would talk to me in corners, telling me of the women he had loved. They formed a somewhat large collection. Julias, Marias, Janets, even Janes–he had madly worshipped, deliriously adored so many it grew bewildering. With a far-away look in his eyes, pain trembling through each note of his musical, soft voice, he would with bitter jest, with passionate outburst, recount how he had sobbed beneath the stars for love of Isabel, bitten his own flesh in frenzied yearning for Lenore. He appeared from his own account–if in connection with a theme so poetical I may be allowed a commonplace expression–to have had no luck with any of them. Of the remainder, an appreciable percentage had been mere passing visions, seen at a distance in the dawn, at twilight–generally speaking, when the light must have been uncertain. Never again, though he had wandered in the neighbourhood for months, had he succeeded in meeting them. It would occur to me that enquiries among the neighbours, applications to the local police, might possibly have been efficacious; but to have broken in upon his exalted mood with such suggestions would have demanded more nerve than at the time I possessed. In consequence, my thoughts I kept to myself.

“My God, boy!” he would conclude, “may you never love as I loved that woman Miriam”–or Henrietta, or Irene, as the case might be.

For my sympathetic attitude towards the red-haired man I received one evening commendation from old Deleglise.

“Good boy,” said old Deleglise, laying his hand on my shoulder. We were standing in the passage. We had just shaken hands with the red-haired man, who, as usual, had been the last to leave. “None of the others will listen to him. He used to stop and confide it all to me after everybody else had gone. Sometimes I have dropped asleep, to wake an hour later and find him still talking. He gets it over early now. Good boy!”

Soon I learnt it was characteristic of the artist to be willing–nay, anxious, to confide his private affairs to any one and every one who would only listen. Another characteristic appeared to be determination not to listen to anybody else’s. As attentive recipient of other people’s troubles and emotions I was subjected to practically no competition whatever. One gentleman, a leading actor of that day, I remember, immediately took me aside on my being introduced to him, and consulted me as to his best course of procedure under the extremely painful conditions that had lately arisen between himself and his wife. We discussed the unfortunate position at some length, and I did my best to counsel fairly and impartially.

“I wish you would lunch with me at White’s to-morrow,” he said. “We can talk it over quietly. Say half-past one. By the bye, I didn’t catch your name.”

I spelt it to him: he wrote the appointment down on his shirt-cuff. I went to White’s the next day and waited an hour, but he did not turn up. I met him three weeks later at a garden-party with his wife. But he appeared to have forgotten me.

Observing old Deleglise’s guests, comparing them with their names, it surprised me the disconnection between the worker and the work. Writers of noble sentiment, of elevated ideality, I found contained in men of commonplace appearance, of gross appetites, of conventional ideas. It seemed doubtful whether they fully comprehended their own work; certainly it had no effect upon their own lives. On the other hand, an innocent, boyish young man, who lived the most correct of lives with a girlish-looking wife in an ivy-covered cottage near Barnes Common, I discovered to be the writer of decadent stories at which the Empress Theodora might have blushed. The men whose names were widest known were not the men who shone the brightest in Deleglise’s kitchen; more often they appeared the dull dogs, listening enviously, or failing pathetically when they tried to compete with others who to the public were comparatively unknown. After a time I ceased to confound the artist with the man, thought no more of judging the one by the other than of evolving a tenant from the house to which circumstances or carelessness might have directed him. Clearly they were two creations originally independent of each other, settling down into a working partnership for purposes merely of mutual accommodation; the spirit evidently indifferent as to the particular body into which he crept, anxious only for a place to work in, easily contented.

Varied were these guests that gathered round old Deleglise’s oak. Cabinet Ministers reported to be in Homburg; Russian Nihilists escaped from Siberia; Italian revolutionaries; high church dignitaries disguised in grey suitings; ex-errand boys, who had discovered that with six strokes of the pen they could set half London laughing at whom they would; raw laddies with the burr yet clinging to their tongues, but who we knew would one day have the people dancing to the music of their words. Neither wealth, nor birth, nor age, nor position counted. Was a man interesting, amusing; had he ideas and thoughts of his own? Then he was welcome. Men who had come, men who were coming, met there on equal footing. Among them, as years ago among my schoolmates, I found my place–somewhat to my dissatisfaction. I amused. Much rather would I have shocked them by the originality of my views, impressed them with the depth of my judgments. They declined to be startled, refused to be impressed; instead, they laughed. Nor from these men could I obtain sympathy in my disappointment.

“What do you mean, you villain!” roared Deleglise’s caretaker at me one evening on entering the kitchen. “How dare you waste your time writing this sort of stuff?”

He had a copy of the paper containing my “Witch of Moel Sarbod” in his hand–then some months old. He screwed it up into a ball and flung it in my face. “I’ve only just read it. What did you get for it?”

“Nothing,” I answered.

“Nothing!” he screamed. “You got off for nothing? You ought to have been whipped at the cart’s tail!”

“Oh, come, it’s not as bad as that,” suggested old Deleglise.

“Not bad! There isn’t a laugh in it from beginning to end.”

“There wasn’t intended to be,” I interrupted.

“Why not, you swindler? What were you sent into the world to do? To make it laugh.”

“I want to make it think,” I told him.

“Make it think! Hasn’t it got enough to think about? Aren’t there ten thousand penny-a-liners, poets, tragedians, tub-thumpers, long-eared philosophers, boring it to death? Who are you to turn up your nose at your work and tell the Almighty His own business? You are here to make us laugh. Get on with your work, you confounded young idiot!”

Urban Vane was the only one among them who understood me, who agreed with me that I was fitted for higher things than merely to minister to the world’s need of laughter. He alone it was who would listen with approval to my dreams of becoming a famous tragedian, a writer of soul-searching books, of passion-analysing plays. I never saw him laugh himself, certainly not at anything funny. “Humour!” he would explain in his languid drawl, “personally it doesn’t amuse me.” One felt its introduction into the scheme of life had been an error. He was a large, fleshy man, with a dreamy, caressing voice and strangely impassive face. Where he came from, who he was, nobody knew. Without ever passing a remark himself that was worth listening to, he, nevertheless, by some mysterious trick of manner I am unable to explain, soon established himself, even throughout that company, where as a rule men found their proper level, as a silent authority in all contests of wit or argument. Stories at which he listened, bored, fell flat. The _bon mot_ at which some faint suggestion of a smile quivered round his clean-shaven lips was felt to be the crown of the discussion. I can only conclude his secret to have been his magnificent assumption of superiority, added to a sphinx-like impenetrability behind which he could always retire from any danger of exposure. Subjects about which he knew nothing–and I have come to the conclusion they were more numerous than was suspected–became in his presence topics outside the radius of cultivated consideration: one felt ashamed of having introduced them. His own subjects–they were few but exclusive–he had the knack of elevating into intellectual tests: one felt ashamed, reflecting how little one knew about them. Whether he really did possess a charm of manner, or whether the sense of his superiority with which he had imbued me it was that made any condescension he paid me a thing to grasp at, I am unable to say. Certain it is that when he suggested I should throw up chorus singing and accompany him into the provinces as manager of a theatrical company he was then engaging to run a wonderful drama that was going to revolutionise the English stage and educate the English public, I allowed myself not a moment for consideration, but accepted his proposal with grateful delight.

“Who is he?” asked Dan. Somehow he had never impressed Dan; but then Dan was a fellow to impress whom was slow work. As he himself confessed, he had no instinct for character. “I judge,” he would explain, “purely by observation.”

“What does that matter?” was my reply.

“What does he know about the business?”

“That’s why he wants me.”

“What do you know about it?”

“There’s not much to know. I can find out.”

“Take care you don’t find out that there’s more to know than you think. What is this wonderful play of his?”

“I haven’t seen it yet; I don’t think it’s finished. It’s something from the Spanish or the Russian, I’m not sure. I’m to put it into shape when he’s done the translation. He wants me to put my name to it as the adaptor.”

“Wonder he hasn’t asked you to wear his clothes. Has he got any money?”

“Of course he has money. How can you run a theatrical company without money?”

“Have you seen the money?”

“He doesn’t carry it about with him in a bag.”

“I should have thought your ambition to be to act, not to manage. Managers are to be had cheap enough. Why should he want some one who knows nothing about it?”

“I’m going to act. I’m going to play a leading part.”

“Great Scott!”

“He’ll do the management really himself; I shall simply advise him. But he doesn’t want his own name to appear.

“Why not?”

“His people might object.”

“Who are his people?”

“How do I know? What a suspicious chap you are.”

Dan shrugged his shoulders. “You are not an actor, you never will be; you are not a business man. You’ve made a start at writing, that’s your proper work. Why not go on with it?”

“I can’t get on with it. That one thing was accepted, and never paid for; everything else comes back regularly, just as before. Besides, I can go on writing wherever I am.”

“You’ve got friends here to help you.”

“They don’t believe I can do anything but write nonsense.”

“Well, clever nonsense is worth writing. It’s better than stodgy sense: literature is blocked up with that. Why not follow their advice?”

“Because I don’t believe they are right. I’m not a clown; I don’t mean to be. Because a man has a sense of humour it doesn’t follow he has nothing else. That is only one of my gifts, and by no means the highest. I have knowledge of human nature, poetry, dramatic instinct. I mean to prove it to you all. Vane’s the only man that understands me.”

Dan lit his pipe. “Have you made up your mind to go?”

“Of course I have. It’s an opportunity that doesn’t occur twice. ‘There’s a tide in the affairs—”

“Thanks,” interrupted Dan; “I’ve heard it before. Well, if you’ve made up your mind, there’s an end of the matter. Good luck to you! You are young, and it’s easier to learn things then than later.”

“You talk,” I answered, “as if you were old enough to be my grandfather.”

He smiled and laid both hands upon my shoulders. “So I am,” he said, “quite old enough, little boy Paul. Don’t be angry; you’ll always be little Paul to me.” He put his hands in his pockets and strolled to the window.

“What’ll you do?” I enquired. “Will you keep on these rooms?”

“No,” he replied. “I shall accept an offer that has been made to me to take the sub-editorship of a big Yorkshire paper. It is an important position and will give me experience.”

“You’ll never be happy mewed up in a provincial town,” I told him. “I shall want a London address, and I can easily afford it. Let’s keep them on together.”

He shook his head. “It wouldn’t be the same thing,” he said.

So there came a morning when we said good-bye. Before Dan returned from the office I should be gone. They had been pleasant months that we had spent together in these pretty rooms. Though my life was calling to me full of hope, I felt the pain of leaving them. Two years is a long period in a young man’s life, when the sap is running swiftly. My affections had already taken root there. The green leaves in summer, in winter the bare branches of the square, the sparrows that chirped about the window-sills, the quiet peace of the great house, Dan, kindly old Deleglise: around them my fibres clung, closer than I had known. The Lady of the train: she managed it now less clumsily. Her hands and feet had grown smaller, her elbows rounder. I found myself smiling as I thought of her–one always did smile when one thought of Norah, everybody did;–of her tomboy ways, her ringing laugh–there were those who termed it noisy; her irrepressible frankness–there were times when it was inconvenient. Would she ever become lady-like, sedate, proper? One doubted it. I tried to picture her a wife, the mistress of a house. I found the smile deepening round my mouth. What a jolly wife she would make! I could see her bustling, full of importance; flying into tempers, lasting possibly for thirty seconds; then calling herself names, saving all argument by undertaking her own scolding, and doing it well. I followed her to motherhood. What a joke it would be! What would she do with them? She would just let them do what they liked with her. She and they would be a parcel of children together, she the most excited of them all. No; on second thoughts I could detect in her a strong vein of common sense. They would have to mind their p’s and q’s. I could see her romping with them, helping them to tear their clothes; but likewise I could see her flying after them, bringing back an armful struggling, bathing it, physicking it. Perhaps she would grow stout, grow grey; but she would still laugh more often than sigh, speak her mind, be quick, good-tempered Norah to the end. Her character precluded all hope of surprise. That, as I told myself, was its defect. About her were none of those glorious possibilities that make of some girls charming mysteries. A woman, said I to myself, should be a wondrous jewel, hiding unknown lights and shadows. You, my dear Norah–I spoke my thoughts aloud, as had become a habit with me: those who live much alone fall into this way–you are merely a crystal, not shallow–no, I should not call you shallow by any mans, but transparent.

What would he be, her lover? Some plain, matter-of-fact, business-like young fellow, a good player of cricket and football, fond of his dinner. What a very uninteresting affair the love-making would be! If she liked him–well, she would probably tell him so; if she didn’t, he would know it in five minutes.

As for inducing her to change her mind, wooing her, cajoling her–I heard myself laughing at the idea.

There came a quick rap at the door. “Come in,” I cried; and she entered.

“I came to say good-bye to you,” she explained. “I’m just going out. What were you laughing at?”

“Oh, at an idea that occurred to me.”

“A funny one?”

“Yes.”

“Tell it me.”

“Well, it was something in connection with yourself. It might offend you.”

“It wouldn’t trouble you much if it did, would it?”

“No, I don’t suppose it would,”

“Then why not tell me?”

“I was thinking of your lover.”

It did offend her; I thought it would. But she looked really interesting when she was cross. Her grey eyes would flash, and her whole body quiver. There was a charming spice of danger always about making her cross.

“I suppose you think I shall never have one.”

“On the contrary, I think you will have a good many.” I had not thought so before then. I formed the idea for the first time in that moment, while looking straight into her angry face. It was still a childish face.

The anger died out of it as it always did within the minute, and she laughed. “It would be fun, wouldn’t it. I wonder what I should do with him? It makes you feel very serious being in love, doesn’t it?”

“Very.”

“Have you ever been in love?”

I hesitated for a moment. Then the delight of talking about it overcame my fear of being chaffed. Besides, when she felt it, nobody could be more delightfully sympathetic. I determined to adventure it.

“Yes,” I answered, “ever since I was a boy. If you are going to be foolish,” I added, for I saw the laugh before it came, “I shan’t talk to you about it.”

“I’m not–I won’t, really,” she pleaded, making her face serious again. “What is she like?”

I took from my breast pocket Barbara’s photograph, and handed it to her in silence.

“Is she really as beautiful as that?” she asked, gazing at it evidently fascinated.

“More so,” I assured her. “Her expression is the most beautiful part of her. Those are only her features.”

She sighed. “I wish I was beautiful.”

“You are at an awkward age,” I told her. “It is impossible to say what you are going to be like.”

“Mamma was a lovely woman, everybody says so; and Tom I call awfully handsome. Perhaps I’ll be better when I’m filled out a bit more.” A small Venetian mirror hung between the two windows; she glanced up into it. “It’s my nose that irritates me,” she said. She rubbed it viciously, as if she would rub it out.

“Some people admire snub noses,” I explained to her.

“No, really?”

“Tennyson speaks of them as ‘tip-tilted like the petals of a rose.'”

“How nice of him! Do you think he meant my sort?” She rubbed it again, but in a kinder fashion; then looked again at Barbara’s photograph. “Who is she?”

“She was Miss Hasluck,” I answered; “she is the Countess Huescar now. She was married last summer.”

“Oh, yes, I remember; you told us about her. You were children together. But what’s the good of your being in love with her if she’s married?”

“It makes my whole life beautiful.”

“Wanting somebody you can’t have?”

“I don’t want her.”

“You said you were in love with her.”

“So I am.”

She handed me back the photograph, and I replaced it in my pocket.

“I don’t understand that sort of love,” she said. “If I loved anybody I should want to have them with me always.

“She is with me always,” I answered, “in my thoughts.” She looked at me with her clear grey eyes. I found myself blinking. Something seemed to be slipping from me, something I did not want to lose. I remember a similar sensation once at the moment of waking from a strange, delicious dream to find the sunlight pouring in upon me through an open window.

“That isn’t being in love,” she said. “That’s being in love with the idea of being in love. That’s the way I used to go to balls”–she laughed–“in front of the glass. You caught me once, do you remember?”

“And was it not sweeter,” I argued, “the imagination? You were the belle of the evening; you danced divinely every dance, were taken in to supper by the Lion. In reality you trod upon your partner’s toes, bumped and were bumped, were left a wallflower more than half the time, had a headache the next day. Were not the dream balls the more delightful?”

“No, they weren’t,” she answered without the slightest hesitation. “One real dance, when at last it came, was worth the whole of them. Oh, I know, I’ve heard you talking, all of you–of the faces that you see in dreams and that are ever so much more beautiful than the faces that you see when you’re awake; of the wonderful songs that nobody ever sings, the wonderful pictures that nobody ever paints, and all the rest of it. I don’t believe a word of it. It’s tommyrot!”

“I wish you wouldn’t use slang.”

“Well, you know what I mean. What is the proper word? Give it me.”

“I suppose you mean cant,” I suggested.

“No, I don’t. Cant is something that you don’t believe in yourself. It’s tommyrot: there isn’t any other word. When I’m in love it will be with something that is real.”

I was feeling angry with her. “I know just what he will be like. He will be a good-natured, commonplace–“

“Whatever he is,” she interrupted, “he’ll be alive, and he’ll want me and I shall want him. Dreams are silly. I prefer being up.” She clapped her hands. “That’s it.” Then, silent, she looked at me with an expression of new interest. “I’ve been wondering and wondering what it was: you are not really awake yet. You’ve never got up.”

I laughed at her whimsical way of putting it; but at the back of my brain was a troubled idea that perhaps she was revealing to me the truth. And if so, what would “waking up,” as she termed it, be like? A flash of memory recalled to me that summer evening upon Barking Bridge, when, as it had seemed to me, the little childish Paul had slipped away from me, leaving me lonely and bewildered to find another Self. Was my boyhood in like manner now falling from me? I found myself clinging to it with vague terror. Its thoughts, its feelings–dreams: they had grown sweet to me; must I lose them? This cold, unknown, new Self, waiting to receive me: I shrank away from it with fear.

“Do you know, I think you will be rather nice when you wake up.”

Her words recalled me to myself. “Perhaps I never shall wake up,” I said. “I don’t want to wake up.”

“Oh, but one can’t go on dreaming all one’s life,” she laughed. “You’ll wake up, and fall in love with somebody real.” She came across to me, and taking the lapels of my coat in both her hands, gave me a vigorous shake. “I hope she’ll be somebody nice. I am rather afraid.”

“You seem to think me a fool!” I was still angry with her, without quite knowing why.

She shook me again. “You know I don’t. But it isn’t the nice people that take best care of themselves. Tom can’t. I have to take care of him.”

I laughed.

“I do, really. You should hear me scold him. I like taking care of people. Good-bye.”

She held out her hand. It was white now and shapely, but one could not have called it small. Strong it felt and firm as it gripped mine.

CHAPTER VIII.

AND HOW CAME BACK AGAIN.

I left London, the drums beating in my heart, the flags waving in my brain. Somewhat more than a year later, one foggy wet December evening, I sneaked back to it defeated–ah, that is a small thing, capable of redress–disgraced. I returned to it as to a hiding-place where, lost in the crowd, I might waste my days unnoticed until such time as I could summon up sufficient resolution to put an end to my dead life. I had been ambitious–dwelling again amid the bitterness of the months that followed my return, I write in the past tense. I had been eager to make a name, a position for myself. But were I to claim no higher aim, I should be doing injustice to my blood–to the great-souled gentleman whose whole life had been an ode to honour, to her of simple faith who had known no other prayer to teach me than the childish cry, “God help me to be good!” I had wished to be a great man, but it was to have been a great good man. The world was to have admired me, but to have respected me also. I was to have been the knight without fear, but, rarer yet, without reproach–Galahad, not Launcelot. I had learnt myself to be a feeble, backboneless fighter, conquered by the first serious assault of evil, a creature of mean fears, slave to every crack of the devil’s whip, a feeder with swine.

Urban Vane I had discovered to be a common swindler. His play he had stolen from the desk of a well-known dramatist whose acquaintance he had made in Deleglise’s kitchen. The man had fallen ill, and Vane had been constant in his visits. Partly recovering, the man had gone abroad to Italy. Had he died there, as at the time was expected, the robbery might never have come to light. News reached us in a small northern town that he had taken a fresh lease of life and was on his way back to England. Then it was that Vane with calm indifference, smoking his cigar over a bottle of wine to which he had invited me, told me the bald truth, adorning it with some touches of wit. Had the recital come upon me sooner, I might have acted differently; but six months’ companionship with Urban Vane, if it had not, by grace of the Lord, destroyed the roots of whatever flower of manhood might have been implanted in me, had most certainly withered its leaves.

The man was clever. That he was not clever enough to perceive from the beginning what he has learnt since: that honesty is the best policy–at least, for men with brains–remains somewhat of a mystery to me. Where once he made his hundreds among shady ways, he now, I suppose, makes his thousands in the broad daylight of legitimate enterprise. Chicanery in the blood, one might imagine, has to be worked out. Urban Vanes are to be found in all callings. They commence as scamps; years later, to one’s astonishment, one finds them ornaments to their profession. Wild oats are of various quality, according to the soil from which they are preserved. We sow them in our various ways.

At first I stormed. Vane sat with an amused smile upon his lips and listened.

“Your language, my dear Kelver,” he replied, my vocabulary exhausted, “might wound me were I able to accept you as an authority upon this vexed question of morals. With the rest of the world you preach one thing and practise another. I have noticed it so often. It is perhaps sad, but the preaching has ceased to interest me. You profess to be very indignant with me for making use of another man’s ideas. It is done every day. You yourself were quite ready to take credit not due to you. For months we have been travelling with this play: ‘Drama, in five acts, by Mr. Horace Moncrieff.’ Not more than two hundred lines of it are your own–excellent lines, I admit, but they do not constitute the play.”

This aspect of the affair had not occurred to me. “But you asked me to put my name to it,” I stammered. “You said you did not want your own to appear–for private reasons. You made a point of it.”

He waved away the smoke from his cigar. “The man you are posing as would never have put his name to work not his own. You never hesitated; on the contrary, you jumped at the chance of so easy an opening to your career as playwright. My need, as you imagined it, was your opportunity.”

“But you said it was from the French,” I argued; “you had merely translated it, I adapted it. I don’t defend the custom, but it is the custom: the man who adapts a play calls himself the author. They all do it.”

“I know,” he answered. “It has always amused me. Our sick friend himself, whom I am sure we are both delighted to welcome back to life, has done it more than once, and made a very fair profit on the transaction. Indeed, from internal evidence, I am strongly of opinion that this present play is a case in point. Well, chickens come home to roost: I adapt from him. What is the difference?”

“Simply this,” he continued, pouring himself out another glass of wine, “that whereas, owing to the anomalous state of the copyright laws, stealing from the foreign author is legal and commendable, against stealing from the living English author there is a certain prejudice.”

“And the consequences, I am afraid, you will find somewhat unpleasant,” I suggested.

He laughed: it was not a frivolity to which he was prone. “You mean, my dear Kelver that you will.”

“Don’t look so dumbfounded ” he went on. “You cannot be so stupid as you are pretending to be. The original manuscript at the Lord Chamberlain’s office is in your handwriting. You knew our friend as well as I did, and visited him. Why, the whole tour has been under your management. You have arranged everything–most excellently; I have been quite surprised.”

My anger came later. For the moment, the sudden light blinded me to everything but fear.

“But you told me,” I cried, “it was only a matter of form, that you wanted to keep your name out of it because–“

He was looking at me with an expression of genuine astonishment. My words began to appear humorous even to myself. I found it difficult to believe I had been the fool I was now seeing myself to have been.

“I am sorry,” he said, “I am really sorry. I took you for a man of the world. I thought you merely did not wish to know anything.”

Still, to my shame, fear was the thing uppermost in my heart. “You are not going to put it all on to me?” I pleaded.

He had risen. He laid his hand upon my shoulder. Instead of flinging it off, I was glad of its kindly pressure. He was the only man to whom I could look for help.

“Don’t take it so seriously,” he said. “He will merely think the manuscript has been lost. As likely as not, he will be unable to remember whether he wrote it or merely thought of writing it. No one in the company will say anything: it isn’t their business. We must set to work. I had altered it a good deal before you saw it, and changed all the names of the characters. We will retain the third act: it is the only thing of real value in the play. The situation is not original; you have as much right to dish it up as he had. In a fortnight we will have the whole thing so different that if he saw it himself he would only imagine we had got hold of the idea and had forestalled him.”

There were moments during the next few weeks when I listened to the voice of my good angel, when I saw clearly that even from the lowest point of view he was giving me sound advice. I would go to the man, tell him frankly the whole truth.

But Vane never left my elbow. Suspecting, I suppose, he gave me clearly to understand that if I did so, I must expect no mercy from him. My story, denounced by him as an outrageous lie, would be regarded as the funk-inspired subterfuge of a young rogue. At the best I should handicap myself with suspicion that would last me throughout my career. On the other hand, what harm had we done? Presented in some twenty or so small towns, where it would soon be forgotten, a play something like. Most plays were something like. Our friend would produce his version and reap a rich harvest; ours would disappear. If by any unlikely chance discussion should arise, the advertisement would he to his advantage. So soon as possible we would replace it by a new piece altogether. A young man of my genius could surely write something better than hotch-potch such as this; experience was all that I had lacked. As regarded one’s own conscience, was not the world’s honesty a mere question of convention? Had he been a young man, and had we diddled him out of his play for a ten-pound note, we should have been applauded as sharp men of business. The one commandment of the world was: Don’t get found out. The whole trouble, left alone, would sink and fade. Later, we should tell it as a good joke–and be laughed with.

So I fell from mine own esteem. Vane helping me–and he had brains–I set feverishly to work. I am glad to remember that every line I wrote was born in misery. I tried to persuade Vane to let me make a new play altogether, which I offered to give him for nothing. He expressed himself as grateful, but his frequently declared belief in my dramatic talent failed to induce his acceptance.

“Later on, my dear Kelver,” was his reply. “For the present this is doing very well. Going on as we are, we shall soon improve it out of all recognition, while at the same time losing nothing that is essential. All your ideas are excellent.”

By the end of about three weeks we had got together a concoction that, so far as dialogue and characters were concerned, might be said to be our own. There was good work in it, here and there. Under other conditions I might have been proud of much that I had written. As it was, I experienced only the terror of the thief dodging the constable: my cleverness might save me; it afforded me no further satisfaction. My humour, when I heard the people laughing at it, I remembered I had forged listening in vague fear to every creak upon the stairs, wondering in what form discovery might come upon me. There was one speech, addressed by the hero to the villain: “Yes, I admit it; I do love her. But there is that which I love better–my self-respect!” Stepping down to the footlights and slapping his chest (which according to stage convention would appear to be a sort of moral jewel-box bursting with assorted virtues), our juvenile lead—-a gentleman who led a somewhat rabbit-like existence, perpetually diving down openings to avoid service of writs, at the instance of his wife, for alimony–would invariably bring down the house upon this sentiment. Every night, listening to the applause, I would shudder, recalling how I had written it with burning cheeks.

There was a character in the piece, a vicious old man, that from the beginning Vane had wanted me to play. I had disliked the part and had refused, choosing instead to act a high-souled countryman, in the portrayal of whose irreproachable emotions I had taken pleasure. Vane now renewed his arguments, and my power of resistance seeming to have departed from me, I accepted the exchange. Certainly the old gentleman’s scenes went with more snap, but at a cost of further degradation to myself. Upon an older actor the effect might have been harmless, but the growing tree springs back less surely; I found myself taking pleasure in the coarse laughter that rewarded my suggestive leers, calling up all the evil in my nature to help me in the development of fresh “business.” Vane was enthusiastic in his praises, generous with his assistance. Under his tuition I succeeded in making the part as unpleasant as we dared. I had genius, so Vane told me; I understood so much of human nature. One proof of the moral deterioration creeping over me was that I was beginning to like Vane.

Looking back at the man as I see him plainly now, a very ordinary scamp, his pretension not even amusing, I find it difficult to present him as he appeared to my boyish eyes. He was well educated and well read. He gave himself the airs of a superior being by freak of fate compelled to abide in a world of inferior creatures. To live among them in comfort it was necessary for him to outwardly conform to their conventions but to respect their reasoning would have been beneath him. To accept their laws as binding on one’s own conscience was, using the common expression, to give oneself away, to confess oneself commonplace. Every decent instinct a man might own to was proof in Vane’s eyes of his being “suburban,” “bourgeois”–everything that was unintellectual. It was the first time I had heard this sort of talk. Vane was one of the pioneers of the movement, which has since become somewhat tiresome. To laugh at it is easy to a man of the world; boys are impressed by it. From him I first heard the now familiar advocacy of pure Hedonism. Pan, enticed from his dark groves, was to sit upon Olympus.

My lower nature rose within me to proclaim the foolish chatterer as a prophet. So life was not as I had been taught–a painful struggle between good and evil. There was no such thing as evil; the senseless epithet was a libel upon Nature. Not through wearisome repression, but rather through joyous expression of the animal lay advancement.

Villains–workers in wrong for aesthetic pleasure of the art–are useful characters in fiction; in real life they do not exist. I am convinced the man believed most of the rubbish he talked. Since the time of which I write he has done some service to the world. I understand he is an excellent husband and father, a considerate master, a delightful host. He intended, I have no doubt, to improve me, to enlarge my understanding, to free me from soul-stifling bondage of convention. Not to credit him with this well-meaning intention would be to assume him something quite inhuman, to bestow upon him a dignity beyond his deserts. I find it easier to regard him merely as a fool.

Our leading lady was a handsome but coarse woman, somewhat over-developed. Starting life as a music-hall singer, she had married a small tradesman in the south of London. Some three or four years previous, her Juno-like charms had turned the head of a youthful novelist–a refined, sensitive man, of whom great things in literature had been expected, and, judging from his earlier work, not unreasonably. He had run away with her, and eventually married her; the scandal was still fresh. Already she had repented of her bargain. These women regard their infatuated lovers merely as steps in the social ladder, and he had failed to appreciably advance her. Under her demoralising spell his ambition had died in him. He no longer wrote, no longer took interest in anything beyond his own debasement. He was with us in the company, playing small parts, and playing them badly; he would have remained with us as bill-poster rather than have been sent away.

Vane planned to bring this woman and myself together. To her he pictured me a young gentleman of means, a coming author, who would soon be earning an income sufficient to keep her in every luxury. To me he hinted that she had fallen in love with me. I was never attracted to her by any feeling stronger than the admiration with which one views a handsome animal. It was my vanity upon which he worked. He envied me; any man would envy me; experience of life was what I needed to complete my genius. The great intellects of this earth must learn all lessons, even at the cost of suffering to themselves and others.

As years before I had laboured to acquire a liking for cigars and whiskey, deeming it an accomplishment necessary to a literary career, so painstakingly I now applied myself to the cultivation of a pretty taste in passion. According to the literature, fictional and historical, Vane was kind enough to supply me with, men of note were invariably sad dogs. That my temperament was not that of the sad dog, that I lacked instinct and inclination for the part, appeared to this young idiot of whom I am writing in the light of a defect. That her languishing glances irritated rather than maddened me, that the occasional covert pressure of her hot, thick hand left me cold, I felt a reproach to my manhood. I would fall in love with her. Surely my blood was red like other men’s. Besides, was I not an artist, and was not profligacy the hall-mark of the artist?

But one grows tired of the confessional. Fate saved me from playing the part Vane had assigned me in this vulgar comedy, dragged me from my entanglement, flung me on my feet again. She was a little brusque in the process; but I do not feel inclined to blame the kind lady for that. The mud was creeping upward fast, and a quick hand must needs be rough.

Our dramatic friend produced his play sooner than we had expected. It crept out that something very like it had been seen in the Provinces. Argument followed, enquiries were set on foot. “It will blow over,” said Vane. But it seemed to be blowing our way.

The salaries, as a rule, were paid by me on Friday night. Vane, in the course of the evening, would bring me the money for me to distribute after the performance. We were playing in the north of Ireland. I had not seen Vane all that day. So soon as I had changed my clothes I left my dressing-room to seek him. The box-office keeper, meeting me, put a note into my hand. It was short and to the point. Vane had pocketed the evening’s takings, and had left by the seven-fifty train! He regretted causing inconvenience, but life was replete with small comedies; the wise man attached no seriousness to them. We should probably meet again and enjoy a laugh over our experiences.

Some rumour had got about. I looked up from the letter to find myself surrounded by suspicious faces. With dry lips I told them the truth. Only they happened not to regard it as the truth. Vane throughout had contrived cleverly to them I was the manager, the sole person responsible. My wearily spoken explanations were to them incomprehensible lies. The quarter of an hour might have been worse for me had I been sufficiently alive to understand or care what they were saying. A dull, listless apathy had come over me. I felt the scene only stupid, ridiculous, tiresome. There was some talk of giving me “a damned good hiding.” I doubt whether I should have known till the next morning whether the suggestion had been carried out or not. I gathered that the true history of the play, the reason for the sudden alterations, had been known to them all along. They appeared to have reserved their virtuous indignation till this evening. As explanation of my apparent sleepiness, somebody, whether in kindness to me or not I cannot say, suggested I was drunk. Fortunately, it carried conviction. No further trains left the town that night; I was allowed to depart. A deputation promised to be round at my lodgings early in the morning.

Our leading lady had left the theatre immediately on the fall of the curtain; it was not necessary for her to wait, her husband acting as her business man. On reaching my rooms, I found her sitting by the fire. It reminded me that our agent in advance having fallen ill, her husband had, at her suggestion, been appointed in his place, and had left us on the Wednesday to make the necessary preparations in the next town on our list. I thought that perhaps she had come round for her money, and the idea amused me.

“Well?” she said, with her one smile. I had been doing my best for some months to regard it as soul-consuming, but without any real success.

“Well,” I answered. It bored me, her being there. I wanted to be alone.

“You don’t seem overjoyed to see me. What’s the matter with you? What’s happened?”

I laughed. “Vane’s bolted and taken the week’s money with him.”

“The beast!” she said. “I knew he was that sort. What ever made you take up with him? Will it make much difference to you?”

“It makes a difference all round,” I replied. “There’s no money to pay any of you. There’s nothing to pay your fares back to London.”

She had risen. “Here, let me understand this,” she said. “Are you the rich mug Vane’s been representing you to be, or only his accomplice?”

“The mug and the accomplice both,” I answered, “without the rich. It’s his tour. He put my name to it because he didn’t want his own to appear–for family reasons. It’s his play; he stole it–“

She interrupted me with a whistle. “I thought it looked a bit fishy, all those alterations. But such funny things do happen in this profession! Stole it, did he?”

“The whole thing in manuscript. I put my name to it for the same reason–he didn’t want his own to appear.”

She dropped into her chair and laughed–a good-tempered laugh, loud and long. “Well, I’m damned!” she said. “The first man who has ever taken me in. I should never have signed if I had thought it was his show. I could see the sort he was with half an eye.” She jumped up from the chair. “Here, let me get out of this,” she said. “I just looked in to know what time to-morrow; I’d forgotten. You needn’t say I came.”

Her hand upon the door, laughter seized her again, so that for support she had to lean against the wall.

“Do you know why I really did come?” she said. “You’ll guess when you come to think it over, so I may as well tell you. It’s a bit of a joke. I came to say ‘yes’ to what you asked me last night. Have you forgotten?”

I stared at her. Last night! It seemed a long while ago–so very unimportant what I might have said.

She laughed again. “So help me! if you haven’t. Well, you asked me to run away with you–that’s all, to let our two souls unite. Damned lucky I took a day to think it over! Good-night.”

“Good-night,” I answered, without moving. I was gripping a chair to prevent myself from rushing at her, pushing her out of the room, and locking the door. I wanted to be alone.

I heard her turn the handle. “Got a pound or two to carry you over?” It was a woman’s voice.

I put my hand into my pocket. “One pound seventeen,” I answered, counting it. “It will pay my fare to London–or buy me a dinner and a second-hand revolver. I haven’t quite decided yet.”

“Oh, you get back and pull yourself together,” she said. “You’re only a kid. Good-night.”

I put a few things into a small bag and walked thirty miles that night into Belfast. Arrived in London, I took a lodging in Deptford, where I was least likely to come in contact with any face I had ever seen before. I maintained myself by giving singing lessons at sixpence the half-hour, evening lessons in French and German (the Lord forgive me!) to ambitious shop-boys at eighteen pence a week, making up tradesmen’s books. A few articles of jewellery I had retained enabled me to tide over bad periods. For some four months I existed there, never going outside the neighbourhood. Occasionally, wandering listlessly about the streets, some object, some vista, would strike me by reason of its familiarity. Then I would turn and hasten back into my grave of dim, weltering streets.

Of thoughts, emotions, during these dead days I was unconscious. Somewhere in my brain they may have been stirring, contending; but myself I lived as in a long, dull dream. I ate, and drank, and woke, and slept, and walked and walked, and lounged by corners; staring by the hour together, seeing nothing.

It has suprised me since to find the scenes I must then have witnessed photographed so clearly on my mind. Tragedies, dramas, farces, played before me in that teeming underworld–the scenes present themselves to me distinct, complete; yet I have no recollection of ever having seen them.

I fell ill. It must have been some time in April, but I kept no count of days. Nobody came near me, nobody knew of me. I occupied a room at the top of a huge block of workmen’s dwellings. A woman who kept a second-hand store had lent me for a shilling a week a few articles of furniture. Lying upon my chair-bedstead, I listened to the shrill sounds around me, that through the light and darkness never ceased. A pint of milk, left each morning on the stone landing, kept me alive. I would wait for the man’s descending footsteps, then crawl to the door. I hoped I was going to die, regretting my returning strength, the desire for food that drove me out into the streets again.

One night, a week or two after my partial recovery, I had wandered on and on for hour after hour. The breaking dawn recalled me to myself. I was outside the palings of a park. In the faint shadowy light it looked strange and unfamiliar. I was too tired to walk further. I scrambled over the low wooden fencing, and reaching a seat, dropped down and fell asleep.

I was sitting in a sunny avenue; birds were singing joyously, bright flowers were all around me. Norah was beside me, her frank, sweet eyes were looking into mine; they were full of tenderness, mingled with wonder. It was a delightful dream: I felt myself smiling.

Suddenly I started to my feet. Norah’s strong hand drew me down again.

I was in the broad walk, Regent’s Park, where, I remembered, Norah often walked before breakfast. A park-keeper, the only other human creature within sight, was eyeing me suspiciously. I saw myself–without a looking-glass–unkempt, ragged. My intention was to run, but Norah was holding me by the arm. Savagely I tried to shake her off. I was weak from my recent illness, and, I suppose, half starved; it angered me to learn she was the stronger of the two. In spite of my efforts, she dragged me back.

Ashamed of my weakness, ashamed of everything about me, I burst into tears; and that of course made me still more ashamed. To add to my discomfort, I had no handkerchief. Holding me with one hand–it was quite sufficient–Norah produced her own, and wiped my eyes. The park-keeper, satisfied, I suppose, that at all events I was not dangerous, with a grin passed on.

“Where have you been, and what have you been doing?” asked Norah. She still retained her grip upon me, and in her grey eyes was quiet determination.

So, with my face turned away from her, I told her the whole miserable story, taking strange satisfaction in exaggerating, if anything, my own share of the disgrace. My recital ended, I sat staring down the long, shadow-freckled way, and for awhile there was no sound but the chirping of the sparrows.

Then behind me I beard a smothered laugh. It was impossible to imagine it could come from Norah. I turned quickly to see who had stolen upon us. It was Norah who was laughing; though to do her justice she was trying to suppress it, holding her handkerchief to her face. It was of no use, it would out; she abandoned the struggle, and gave way to it. It astonished the sparrows into silence; they stood in a row upon the low iron border and looked at one another.

“I am glad you think it funny,” I said.

“But it is funny,” she persisted. “Don’t say you have lost your sense of humour, Paul; it was the one real thing you possessed. You were so cocky–you don’t know how cocky you were! Everybody was a fool but Vane; nobody else but he appreciated you at your true worth. You and he between you were going to reform the stage, to educate the public, to put everything and everybody to rights. I am awfully sorry for all you’ve gone through; but now that it is over, can’t you see yourself